Saturday, March 28, 2009

Downtown Buildings in the 1920s

1922 was a BIG year in downtown Los Angeles' architectural history. According to the website, that was the year we got:

and many, many others.

The You-Are-Here site sorts out the buildings still standing in many historic areas, arranging them by year, with links to photos of the buildings now.

The Los Angeles Library has this wonderful picture of our downtown on June 13, 1924, with Pershing Square in the center and the Biltmore on the left. Hotel Savoy is in the lower left, 6th and Grand, where the Wilshire Grand is now. "Spence Air Photos"--which I think means Robert E. Spence--took the picture. Don't know much about him but would love to learn more. Urban aerial photography in the 1920s . . . what an adventure.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Urban Critters in Los Angeles

If anyone knows of an official study showing the ups and downs of wild animal populations in our county, I'd love to hear about it!

Growing up in the 1960s, I never saw a squirrel or opossum in the suburbs. Now, they are common. Also never saw a raccoon--but these days they sneak through porches and back yards, looking for food. In 2006, NPR aired a story about gangsta raccoons terrorizing Venice residents, even attacking a 50-pound Dalmatian! Here's a story from this year about a Pasadena woman shooting a raccoon that attacked her dogs. And of course, Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez has written about them.

I'd like to see some numbers! Is it just anecdotal, that long-time residents of suburbia note an increase in fauna? Or did the critters run out of vacant lots and undeveloped land in the 90s, and are their numbers in residential areas really increasing?

I did learn from the L.A. Animal Control site that opossums were introduced into Northern California as late as 1910. So if you happen to see something like this when you walk out to your car in the morning, you might want to bring up the All City Animal Trapping folks who provided this picture in the photo gallery.

In April, 1922, a farmer in Ventura dispatched a chicken-stealing opossum, "probably the only opossum ever killed in this county," and the story was worthy of the Times. The creatures were moving south, but no one suspected...until May 4, 1924, when a headline on pg. 14 read, "Possum meat at Lankershim--First Animal of Kind Is Trapped on Ranch in River Area." The ranch was the Charlie Machus ranch on Tujunga Avenue. A visitor from Missouri id'd the varmint, who had been stalking the chicken-house for some days. The Times speculated that the opossum escaped from a traveling circus or "one of the film studio zoos in Universal City."

On November 8, 1926, one Sargeant Johnson of the Valley Division fired at a strange creature on Sepulveda Blvd, in Van Nuys, later realizing it was an opossum. He originally thought it might be a mountain lion, which is why he shot at it.

Finally, on March 1, 1928: "Angeleno bags first 'Possum." The bag-ee was hanging around Mrs. Mac Marsh's chicken coup on 98th St. A neighbor shot it, though the police had been called.

As for coyotes, here's a site that maps encounters and sitings of them beasties, maintained by several agencies. The site, CoyoteBytes, also has pictures, like the one at right. Dept. of Animal Regulation employee T. Baswell took this recently. My one complaint about the site is that the encounter map doesn't have dates, but it still makes an interesting visit.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

March 19, 1939

It's a sure bet the Times ran a story about swallows returning to Capistrano; they did and it did. Right to the left is an article about police breaking up a poker game in San Gabriel and arresting 17 people. The address was 507 S. Del Mar--today it's Carmen's Beauty Studio.

And Pomona may host the President in 2009, but in 1939 the 8th annual Spring Poultry Show kicked off at the fairgrounds.

The big news in the world was that France was preparing for invasion by Hitler's troops, giving PM Daladier dictatorial powers. The first thing he did was call up 125,000 troops. The Nazis were parading in their recent conquest: Czechoslovakia. The lines were being drawn, and we all know how that turned out. (Here's a great site for tracking World War 2 events.)

In Los Angeles, though, Hitler and Daladier shared the front page with IATSE, the International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees. Yup, a rally at the Hollywood America Legion Stadium turned into a riot and "At least a score of men received bloody noses, black eyes or loosened teeth in fistic battles breaking out on the stadium floor." The fight was over local control--international officers of the union had gotten an injunction stopping the local officials from transacting business. The local guys figured this to be a grab for their cash reserves. It got ugly.

This picture--dated Sept. 3, 1938, shows Gate 2 of the Stadium, which closed in 1960 or 1985, depending on your source. The photo's part of the Los Angeles Library's Herald Examiner collection. As a boxing venue from 1921, it had quite a history (see's site). It's now the Legion Lanes Bowling Alley on Gower St.

According to The Story of Hollywood: An Illustrated History, the Friday night boxing bouts were the place to stars like Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff, the Marx Brothers, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, Mae West, Humphrey Bogart and the Three Stooges.

What else was going on?

Eleanor Roosevelt was in town for three hours on March 19, 1939 as well. She stopped by to see her son James, a movie studio VP--he picked her up at the train station, took her to dinner, and got her back on a train to San Francisco. Since Union Station didn't open till May 1939, they would have met and parted at the Central Station, 5th and Alameda (if you want to know more about our pre-Union Station train platforms, here's a good starting point: a comment by SenorLargo last September)

Mrs. Roosevelt rode on the Sunset Limited, operated by Southern Pacific, and Wiki says that by 1939 the route offered all Pullman cars and even had air conditioning.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Hollywood Park History

It ain't in Hollywood, but it's about to be razed and rebuilt if the powers-that-be can agree on a profitable model. What those powers (actually, Inglewood City Council members) are discussing now is a mix of shops, eateries, movie theaters, homes, offices, a school and an upgraded casino...but no race track. Yet it would be called Hollywood Park Tomorrow.

Apparently, the race track itself attracts only about 8000 folks per racing day. You can read about it here, in the Daily Breeze. The company that bought Hollywood Park in 2005 (Stockbridge RE Funds) is proposing a $2-3 Billion plan to redevelop the land, sans track.

The racing season starts in about a month (April 22) but related stories tell us that the budget for purses have already be slashed. I'd rather stay home and watch the Marx Brothers race in A Day at the Races (which was filmed at Santa Anita in 1937).

This picture is from the Los Angeles Library's collection. Cary Grant--who looks gorgeous in the bright sun--visited in 1941, just before World War 2 started. The track closed during the war and was converted to storage for the war effort. The grandstand in this picture burned down in 1949 and was rebuilt the next year.

For the record, the Park maintains its own history site. The track opened on June 10, 1938, through the efforts of the Hollywood Turf Club--led by Jack L. Warner and 600 other investors. According to the Wikipedia entry, the Turf Club morphed into Hollywood Park Inc, a publicly-traded NYSE entity, in 1992. Eight years later the name changed to Pinnacle Entertainment.

This lovely picture is of the Club House BEFORE the racetrack opened. Again, it's from the Library's Shades of LA collection, and is dated Christmas, 1937. The address is given too: 1050 South Prairie Avenue.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Study Proves Ozone Lethal

How refreshing that we can now point to an 18-year-long study (a study that's come of age, iow) and say we have measured the impact of ozone exposure. Sounds so much more scientifical that just blurting out that of course, smog is bad for you.

The study is reported in the Los Angeles Times and many other places; the source is the New England Journal of Medicine.

Bottom line: Angelenos are 40% to 50% more at risk for respiratory ailments because of ozone.

Ozone is not smog. According to the Times ozone is colorless. But it is a component of the pollution that fills our skies, thanks to our famed inversion layer (cool air from the sea sneaking under the warm air, which should rise but can't because of high pressure. Therefore it traps the pollutants and keeps them from dissipating). I think ozone is included in the term smog. Here's a quote from the Times piece:

"Ozone is what is known as a secondary pollutant. It is not formed directly by the burning of fossil fuels. Rather, nitrogen oxides produced by such combustion react in the presence of sunlight to form ozone. It is thus the biggest problem in areas that are sunny and hot, Jerrett said.

"As an oxidizing agent, ozone reacts with virtually anything it comes into contact with. In particular, it reacts with cells in the lungs, causing inflammation and a variety of other effects that lead to premature aging."

Oh, yum. The word smog comes from London where it meant the haze created by fog and coal smoke. Here it means photochemical air pollution.

The lovely picture at left of Wilshire Blvd. was taken in 1986 by Chris Gulker. It's part of the Los Angeles Public Library's online photo collection. Type in "Smog" as a search term and you get eight pages, some of them going back to the 1940s.

In the 1940s, of course, thanks to wartime production, Southern California really emerged as a manufacturing hot spot for chemicals, aircraft, rubber, and all the rest. We already had an oil industry. And all our workers drove cars. Smog became a real hazard.

The Times itself was on the bandwagon, and thanks to its efforts, backyard incinerators were banned and an Air Pollution Control District was set up.

Who discovered the components of OUR smog? Dr. A. Haagen-Smit of CalTech, in 1950. He recreated smog in a lab from the gasoline vapor and chemicals produced by cars, identified ozone as a byproduct, and figured out a way to test the air quality by measuring said ozone.

He was the head of the first Air Resources Board in 1968, an organization that led to our current CA Environmental Protection Agency. Ironically (or maybe not), he died of lung cancer in the 1970s.

This photo is from 1968. As you can see, we didn't exactly jump on the bandwagon once Dr. Haagen-Smit id'd auto exhaust as 80% of the smog in our air.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

It's Spring!

The equinox is nine days off and this has nothing to do with history, but it's spring and I finally got the squirrel--who has been playing peekaboo with me and my dog for a week--to pose!

What a handsome rodent.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Dearden's: A Century Old

The original Dearden's at 7th and Main has been in business--as Dearden's--for 100 years. How many other businesses in Los Angeles can say that? The Los Angeles Times listed five: Philippe's, Cole's, the Alexandria Hotel, and "a couple of law firms."

(If I were one of those law firms, I'd demand a little more respect.)

The Times published a story about Dearden's last week, with a great photo collection that includes the mural on the side wall: "Generacion tras generacion" by Eloy Torres, 1988. (This picture is from PublicArtInLA.) Torres' mural replaced a 1970's one that featured the pyramid at Chichen-Itza and other icons of Mexican history. That's Torres' wife, Margaret, holding the birthday cake. He also stuck in the pyramid (in a painting over the mantel) and a portrait of Frieda Kahlo, over on the right.

Another story from the Times' Daily Mirror blog details the whole corner (7th and Main) and the hunt for an elusive, 50-year-old plaque that supposedly commemorated the birth of the film industry. "Supposedly" because the fabled plaque has disappeared. It was on a corner of Dearden's--once. I do not know why 7th and Main is the place to commemorate the birth of LA's film industry, and I suppose that's a topic for another day. The blog has nice pictures, though.

According to the Times, Dearden's is keeping the celebrations very low-key, because "we've never seen anything that's as bad as this." Meaning the economy, of course.

Dearden's Operations Director is the great-grandson of the founder, Edgar Dearden. Couldn't find anything in the historical Times about the opening of the store, but I did find a building permit issued to E. Dearden in January 1909--for a six-room cottage on Budlong Ave.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Entertainment, 50 Years Ago

March 8, 1959 was a Sunday just like today, so I've putzed around the Los Angeles Times for that date, wondering what might be in the Calendar. Of course, there was no Calendar section in the 1959 Times; the section was called Entertainment.

And here's a depressing tidbit: the Sunday paper had 504 pages.

Anyway, the lead movie story in Entertainment was an interview with Jack Lemmon. Some Like it Hot was coming out by the end of March, and Lemmon was already a big star with an Oscar for Mister Roberts. Here's what writer Cecil Smith had to say about the advance buzz for Some Like it Hot:

"I have heard that Billy Wilder's new movie, "Some like it Hot," is the funniest piece of work in hears. In other circles, I've heard ... the picture [is] dull, overlong (2 hours) and "one joke stretched all out of proportion."

Another story, about the upcoming Academy Awards, noted that Burl Ives and Gig Young had been demoted to supporting actors so that they'd have a better shot at an Oscar. Ives eventually won, so I guess the strategy worked.

If you wanted to see a movie that Sunday, your choices included Some Came Running (Sinatra, Dino, & Shirley MacLaine), Auntie Mame at the Chinese Theatre (12th week! 6 nominations!), Disney's Sleeping Beauty, and The Shaggy Dog with Fred MacMurray.

The Times' regular book reviewer was off in New York for the National Book Awards, which had just been announced. The awardees were:

  • For Fiction: The Magical Barrel, by Bernard Malamud

  • For Non-Fiction: Mistress to an Age, a Life of Madame de Stael, by J. Christopher Herold

  • For Poetry: Words for the Wind, by Theodore Roethke

What a fleeting thing is fame! I've never heard of any of these, although Malamud wrote The Natural, made into the best baseball movie ever. But Roethke's collection won all sorts of awards, and he already had a Pulitzer, so the fact that I haven't heard of Words for the Wind reflects more about me than him.

Marian Anderson performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic on March 15, 1959. Wonder what tickets cost back then? $4.50 for the best seats, $1.50 for 'way, 'way back.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Bob's Big Boy

A few years ago, I could not find out anything about the original Bob's Big Boy. Now, I stumble across information all over the internet. Technology is wonderful, except when it's toxic.

This picture is of the original Bob's Pantry Restaurant, started in Glendale in 1936. Robert C. Wian, the original Bob, had two years of restaurant experience when he sold his car to pay for this 10-seat lunch counter (then abandoned) on Colorado Blvd.

After six months, some tipsy band members stopped by in the evening and wanted Bob to make them something "special." He split a bun in half the hard way and invented the double-decker burger.

The fancy burger got the name "Big Boy" a few weeks later when a pudgy kid came in. Bob almost said, "Hi there, fat boy," but changed it to "Hi there, big boy," and a lightbulb went on over his head.

In 1949, the Bob's Big Boy at 4211 Riverside Drive was built. Wayne McAllister designed it, and Bob Hope was a regular. That place is now the oldest Bob's Big Boy around, and it's made screen appearances in Heat and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. (this picture is from Wikipedia.)

Not that this matters so much to L.A. historians, but according to the FindaGrave website, Wian's fishing boat made it into the movies, too. It was featured in The Wackiest Ship in the Army, starring Jack Lemmon.

By the time Wian sold his chain of 600 restaurants to the Marriott Corporation in 1967 for $7 million dollars, he'd become notable for a few firsts: the first double burger, the first restaurateur to offer health insurance and profit sharing to his employees. In fact, when he incorporated Bob's Big Boy in 1946, he offered his employees stock in the company at $10/share. Some of them became millionaires.

Just for giggles, Wian was also elected Glendale's youngest mayor (age 34) in 1948.

Monday, March 2, 2009

City of Seekers Tour

What unites these sites?

  • Angelus Temple (right), built in 1923 for Aimee Semple McPherson. This is the home of Sister Aimee's Foursquare Gospel Church, it seats 5300 people, and it's a National Historic Landmark.

  • Self-Realization Mother Center on Mt. Washington above Highland Park, founded in 1925 but using a hotel building that went up in 1908.

  • Chapel of the Jesus Ethic in Glendale, part of the Niscience Foundation of Ann Ree Colton.

  • The Mayan Revival library and complex (right) of the Philosophical Research Society --a group founded in 1934 to be "free of ecclesiastical control" in the Los Feliz area.

  • The 1896 Bonnie Brae House (here's a history at LAist) where Pentecostalism in LA was born in 1906. William J. Seymour stayed with the Asberry's, who owned the house, when he was locked out of a church for speaking in tongues. This picture of the house is from that time.

Starting to sense a theme? Like, oh, sites rich in the search for spiritual awareness? Bingo!

On March 14, the LA Conservancy will lead a one-time tour titled "City of Seekers," stopping at all these historic spots. You can get more info or order tickets at their website, or call the Conservancy at (213) 623-2489.

Here's more stuff from the announcement: "There will be a series of related “City of the Seekers” events in March including the art exhibit Within Heaven’s Earshot: Religious Album Covers beginning March 13. The lecture A Visionary State: California’s Spiritual Legacy on March 15 and the multi-media show Mystic Los Angeles on March 17, both feature the work of Erik Davis."